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Commentaires écrits par
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia)
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   

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Sequence of Self
Sequence of Self
Prix : CDN$ 1.06

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Did it work that way? Did people set out in one direction and end up going another?’, Aug. 28 2014
Ce commentaire est de: Sequence of Self (Kindle Edition)
January Winston is a mother of two, hoping to establish her own business with the help of $250,000 - money that she and her current boyfriend/fiancé George scammed from a previous employer. But January’s life is turned upside down when she is attacked in her own home. Her attacker, Rey Parsons, has already spent time in prison. He’s paranoid and angry, sometimes confused, and doesn’t always remember to take his medication. January doesn’t identify Rey in a police line-up, and he’s released. While both January and George consider seeking revenge, George becomes obsessed by it. And in the meantime, January’s life starts to fall apart. By contrast, Rey gets a job in a telephone company, and becomes successful.

The story moves between January and Rey, and backwards and forwards in time which enables the reader to get some sense of who January and Rey are, and were. Can January find happiness and success, and will it include George? Are January’s parents a help, or a hindrance? Will Rey have to answer for his actions, or can a changed (more productive) life atone for the past?

‘Time did and did not pass. That was the simple fact of it.’

There are no blameless heroes in this story, but it’s difficult not to feel some sympathy for both January and Rey. It’s quite an accomplishment for an author to create such flawed characters who are not (at least in my reading) completely beyond redemption. But are they redeemed? It’s difficult to know. The structure of the novel is challenging because of the shifts in time and between the characters breaks the flow of the story. But if you can accommodate these fractures in the story, you may well enjoy this novel. I kept wondering about alternate sequences of self, of different lives for both January and Rey. And despite the fact that I liked neither character very much, they appear to have taken up temporary residence in my mind. At least, I hope it is a temporary residence.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Night Guest: A Novel
The Night Guest: A Novel
Offered by Macmillan CA
Prix : CDN$ 10.99

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Ruth woke at four in the morning and her blurry brain said, ‘Tiger’. That was natural; she was dreaming.’, Aug. 26 2014
Elderly and widowed, living on her own in an isolated house on a beach on the east coast of Australia, Ruth Field senses a tiger prowling around her house. She rings her son Jeffrey in New Zealand to tell him. This may only be a flight of fancy, or is it a harbinger of greater danger ahead?

The next morning, a woman appears at Ruth’s home: ‘My name is Frida Young, and I’m here to look after you.’ Frida has, she says, been sent by the government as a carer to help Ruth with cleaning and cooking. Jeffrey, on the telephone from New Zealand, is wants to see the paperwork but is delighted about what he considers to be a good use of taxpayer funds.

And so Frida, who arrives each morning with a different hairstyle (and sometimes colour) brings Ruth back from an essentially solitary life, providing help and companionship. Frida looks Fijian to Ruth, and this reminds her of her childhood with her missionary parents in Fiji, and of her first love: Richard. She gets in touch with Richard, and invites him to visit for a weekend. When Richard visits, Ruth discovers that Frida has moved into her spare room: the room that her son Phillip once used. Ruth doesn’t remember inviting Frida to move in, but Frida is adamant that she did.

It’s clear that Ruth’s memory is worsening, and while her memory of the past is clear there are gaps in her memory of the immediate past and holes are developing in the present. Is Frida changing, or is it Ruth’s perception of her? Is Frida protecting her, or exploiting her?

‘There’s some sense in not going back. That way, you preserve it.’

Frida is a larger than life character who works hard to earn Ruth’s trust. But there’s a sense that Frida is not what she seems, and Ruth is very vulnerable.

I could not put this book down. Even though I had a fair idea of what might happen, the ending is heartbreaking. Ms McFarlane does a wonderful job of creating two very different characters: the vulnerable Ruth and the seemingly confident Frida, of reminding us how fragile connections can be. It also reminded me that the elderly are particularly vulnerable when they live alone. This is the kind of discomforting novel which you admire for its writing rather than enjoy for its content. And which may dwell in your mind long after you’ve finished it.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Currawong Manor
Currawong Manor
Prix : CDN$ 13.63

3.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Fate can be a dangerous mistress.’, Aug. 21 2014
Ce commentaire est de: Currawong Manor (Kindle Edition)
A book has been commissioned about Currawong Manor, once the home of Rupert Partridge, a famous artist. Elizabeth Thorrington, a renowned photographer, and Rupert’s granddaughter, has been invited to the house to take photographs of it and of some of the people that used to live there. The book, to be written by true crime writer and former musician Nick Cash, is intended to celebrate Rupert Partridge’s life, and to showcase his talents.

‘But there’s still time to leave, my girl. There’s always a choice of path – and sometimes it’s wise to take the less exciting one.’

But Currawong Manor, in the picturesque (Australian) Blue Mountains, with its own history and secrets, was the place where a great tragedy occurred in the 1940s. In the space of a single day, Rupert‘s wife Doris and their daughter Shalimar died separate tragic deaths. The only member of the family who survived was Elizabeth’s mother. Rupert himself disappeared. Elizabeth meets Dolly Sharp, who was a child living at Currawong Manor in the 1940s, and Ginger, one of her grandfather’s ‘Flowers’ as the three young women who lived with the Partridge family and posed for Rupert’s paintings were known.

Ginger has agreed to be interviewed and photographed, but she does not seem particularly enthusiastic. Elizabeth realises that both Ginger and Dolly know more about the mysteries of Currawong Manor than they seem prepared to share. Elizabeth is keen to find out more about her family’s past and to uncover the truth (or truths) behind the tragedy. Her own mother wants nothing to do with Currawong Manor, and warned Elizabeth against going there. So, what is the truth behind the tragedy? And will Ginger and Dolly tell Elizabeth what they know? What is the truth of Owlbone Woods, and does a gathering of currawongs signal impending death?

‘Are you up for an adventure?’

The story of Currawong Manor and its previous inhabitants unfolds as we move between Elizabeth’s present and Ginger’s past. If you like dark, brooding, atmospheric novels, this is one to savour. Secrets abound, and while some may appear obvious to the reader, others take time to be revealed.

‘Revenge is a lit match in a summer bush- you destroy everything around you as well as yourself.’

I confess that I did not like this novel as much its predecessor, ‘Poet’s Cottage’. The story is well written, the setting well described but at times it was a little too dramatic for me. Perhaps I prefer not to have the loose ends tied up quite so completely.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

THE THRESHING CIRCLE
THE THRESHING CIRCLE
Prix : CDN$ 5.48

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘They’re like the pieces in a mosaic: until they’re all set in place, there’s no clear picture.’, Aug. 19 2014
Ce commentaire est de: THE THRESHING CIRCLE (Kindle Edition)
Set in Crete, ‘The Threshing Circle’ involves betrayal, kidnapping, murder, revenge and vendetta. While mostly set in 2004, this particular cycle of blood began in 1942, during the German occupation when a young woman named Marianna was murdered. In 2004, a young couple named Patrick and Eleni arrive on Crete – as tourists they say – but they seem very interested in the story of Marianna’s execution. When they disappear Kirsty, the expatriate Scotswoman who runs a kafenion and who has befriended them, is concerned. Those who remember Marianna see that Eleni resembles her, and a number of them have their own reasons for not wanting to revisit the past. In a reluctant allegiance with a local man, the intriguing and irritating, Barba Yiorgos, Kirsty tries to find them.

‘But sometimes there is nothing trivial about vendetta. Sometimes the cycle of blood must flow.’

There are a number of different angles to this fast moving story, and it isn’t until near the end that all of the pieces will fall into place. In the meantime, there’s a sense of great urgency. Patrick and Eleni are surely in danger, but where are they? And which stories, of those told to Kirsty, are true? Who can she trust? Is Kirsty also in danger, and what about Barba Yiorgos? There’s a fascinating cast of characters in this novel: some are good, some are evil, and some seem magical. Crete itself is central to this story with its famous monasteries, abandoned villages and long-lived hatreds.

‘Timing is everything.’

I found this a difficult novel to put down: each of the different strands of the story had me hooked. It’s difficult to say more without introducing spoilers, and I’m trying to avoid that. Suffice to say, the ending took my breath away and I’d hate to ruin that experience for another reader. This is a novel in which characters represent the best, and the worst of humankind. There is beauty and nobility, violence and ugliness. Oh, and one day I’d like to visit Crete for myself.

Note: I was offered and accepted a copy of this novel for review purposes. I am glad that I did.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Mussel Feast (Peirene's Turning Point Series)
The Mussel Feast (Peirene's Turning Point Series)
Prix : CDN$ 6.35

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘The mussels sat silently in the bowl; they were dead.’, Aug. 17 2014
A mother and her two children, a son and a daughter, are waiting for the father to come home. The mother has prepared an enormous bowl of mussels. While she doesn’t like them very much herself, they are her husband’s favourite dish and so she has spent a long time scrubbing the mussels in cold water. The family waits: he is usually home at six o’clock. He is not home at six o’clock, and while the family waits we learn more about the father and his role in this family mainly through the thoughts of his daughter.

‘It’s astonishing how people react when the routine is disturbed, a tiny delay to the normal schedule and at once everything is different – and I mean everything: the moment a random event occurs, however insignificant, people who were once stuck together fall apart, all hell breaks loose and they tear each other’s heads off, still alive if possible; terrible violence and slaughter, the fiercest wars ensue because, by pure accident, not everything is normal. Broadly speaking, that’s what happened.’

As we wait with the family (where is this father, and why is he late?) the other family members become more alive and step slightly outside the roles they seem to have assumed within the family when the father is present. Time ticks by: perhaps he’s not coming home, but will anyone really care? He has been critical of his wife and of his children, he is inflexible and seems to be uncaring. But in his wife’s words:

‘There is much goodness in him, and he is as noble as a man without real love can be.’

This is a powerful novella. We are left to do our own thinking and form our own conclusions about this family and especially the father’s role. Early anxiety – about making sure that everything is just right for when he returns – decreases as the wife and the children seem to become more relaxed (and how can this be?). And we readers are drawn into the scene: wondering about the father and why he is late, and his impact on his wife and each of his children. We don’t meet the father in person, but by the end of the novella I don’t like him any more than I like the mussels.

In fewer than 120 pages, Ms Vanderbeke creates a story that expands beyond the situation she has described. It took less than two hours to read this novella, but I’m still thinking about the characters. Wondering about the father, and about what happened once the final page was read. Thinking that there has to be more to it.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Night Flower
The Night Flower
Prix : CDN$ 7.10

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘There’s times in here I have to check I ain’t just gone and died already. ', Aug. 16 2014
Ce commentaire est de: The Night Flower (Kindle Edition)
' All I’ve got is a pile of hours, and hours ain’t what people think they are.’

Usually, a 14 year old orphaned gypsy girl and a 26 year old widowed governess would not have much in common. Usually. But in 1842, when Miriam Booth is convicted of burglary and Rose Winter is convicted for the theft of fourteen silver knives and forks and one ring, both are sentenced to seven years transportation. Both will sail on ‘The Marquis of Hastings’ to Van Diemen’s Land.

Miriam has lived by her wits in the Newcastle slums, until she became involved in house-breaking. Rose, once much higher in society than Miriam, became a governess when she was widowed with three young children of her own. Her father has been imprisoned for slave trading (a prosperous but by then illegal trade) and Rose’s position in society suffers as a consequence.

Conditions aboard the ship are appalling, although women with money to spare or willing to be ‘wife’ to one of the sailors can secure a better passage. Rose, who is accompanied by her youngest daughter Arabella, is able to share a cabin while Miriam is stuck in the hold where she is befriended by Ma Dywer, a former brothel-keeper travelling to join her convict husband already in Van Diemen’s Land.

After they arrive in Van Diemen’s Land, Miriam and Rose are hired by the Reverend Sutton to work at his nursery for convict babies – an alternative which seems much better than working at the Cascades Factory for Women.

‘But I was coming to see for myself how there was a lot of difference in this world between the Christian way of thinking and the Christian way of acting.’

Alas, the Reverend Sutton is a hypocrite, and while he frequents the brothel next door and also takes advantage of some of the women who work for him, any evidence of sexual transgression (and especially pregnancy) is to be condemned. Miriam, who falls in love with the Reverend Sutton’s son John, becomes trapped.

‘I am arresting you for the crime of being advanced in pregnancy.’

And Rose? Her daughter Arabella has been taken from her, and while she takes good care of the convict babies she longs to look after another child.

I found it difficult to put this book down. Rose and Miriam tell their stories with their own distinct voices. Miriam’s reflects her much lower class upbringing: much more direct and full of grammatical error. Rose has more control over what she says and how she says it. As a consequence of their two distinct voices and different perspectives, I felt that I obtained a more complete view of their lives, the times and society in which they lived. While we start with a fair knowledge of Miriam’s life and circumstances, Rose’s story unfolds during the course of the novel. By the end of the novel I felt particularly sorry for Miriam: so young, so vulnerable, so trusting.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Cry of the Fish Eagle
Cry of the Fish Eagle
Prix : CDN$ 5.26

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘They say in Rhodesia that, once you’ve drunk the waters of the Zambezi and heard the cry of the fish eagle,, Aug. 11 2014
you are never satisfied anywhere else on earth.’

In 1943, when this novel opens, Rupert Pengelly is a Flying Officer in the Royal Air Force. His hope, once the war is over, is to return to his family’s home at King’s Water in Cornwall and farm the estate as his family has for generations. But after the war, Rupert finds that the property is heavily mortgaged and he loses it to a distant cousin, George Geake. There is nothing much for Rupert in England, and a promise he made to his Commanding Officer Rigby Savage before Savage’s death takes him to Rhodesia in search of Savage’s daughter Sasa.

‘Once again, there was nothing he could do to stop other people interfering with his life.’

Between 1943, and 1979 when the novel ends, we meet a number of individuals and families whose lives intersect with Rupert’s and whose fortunes are tied to events in Rhodesia and elsewhere. The novel – which is divided into four sections - spans the period from 1943 to 1979, covering the lives of Rupert and a diverse cast of characters as well as the history and political machinations that see Rhodesia transformed into Zimbabwe.

‘Governments came and went, some friendly, some hostile, but the people of Africa stayed behind, no matter the colour of their skins.’

While Rupert Pengelly is the most central of the characters depicted, Sasa Savage, David Llewellyn-Jones (known as Lewdly) the shifty George Geake and the machiavellian Piccadilly ‘Dilly’ Brown are also significant. There are a large number of characters in the novel, and I found myself backtracking a couple of times to try to keep track of them and their particular part in the story.

‘But isn’t life rather a pattern of every one of us doing our jobs? Should not every man find his place in the way of things?’

I enjoyed this novel. There were a few proof reading issues that distracted me at the beginning and there were some aspects that felt unfinished but by the time I finished the first section of the book I was fascinated by some of the characters and especially by the setting. If you are interested in Rhodesia and its (at times tragic) transition to independent nationhood as Zimbabwe, you may well enjoy this novel.

‘But there’s a saying. Hear the cry of the fish eagle, and you’ll always come back.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Warrior: The Moondark Saga, Books 1-3
Warrior: The Moondark Saga, Books 1-3
Prix : CDN$ 2.99

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Between the hammer and anvil of nuclear weapons and chemical warfare, we managed to reduce the human population to remnants.’, Aug. 10 2014
The Moondark Saga is the story of Gan Moondark and the nation he forms in a post-apocalyptic world in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. So far I’ve only read the first three books in the saga (the Warrior trilogy: Book 1: Escape to Challenge, Book 2: Warrior’s Gamble, Book 3: Who Dares Define Victory ) but I intend to read the other six.

The Dog People have roamed the Northwest with their horses and dogs for centuries. They have become strong during this time, but they battle with each other to determine who will be their new War Chief. Col Moondark, their previous War Chief wanted his son Gan to be his successor, but Gan is viewed with mistrust by his fellow tribesmen. Gan, who prefers the company of his war dogs to the tribe, sets off across the Northwest. Along the way, he meets the Rose Priestess Sylah, a war healer; Tate, a soldier with some secrets of her own; and Clas, who become his friend and fighting instructor.

‘Nothing was exactly as it should be, yet all happened as the dream promised.’

In an interesting blend of personal quests and conflicting allegiances, the characters become very real. And just as the world of the Dog People becomes relatively familiar, other players enter the arena. The reader will recognise the ’giants’ are and where they came from, but what are their intentions, and is co-existence possible? There are other nations as well, and with war between the Harbundai and the Ola looming, allegiances are shifting and conflict is inevitable.

‘If this is what they’ve become in five centuries, what’ll their descendants be like in another century? Another five?’

There were plenty of twists and turns as the story unfolded, an interesting dual storyline develops and I enjoyed the fact that there were strong male and female characters. I liked the depiction of the different cultures that had developed, and wondered which choices people would make when forced to choose between the familiar and the different.

‘How long, she wondered, does it take for a failed dream to wizen into bitter brooding about what might have been?’

About half way through Book 1, I was hooked. I was pleased that I could keep reading through Books 2 and 3 and am looking forward to starting Book 4 soon. I found this story utterly absorbing, and I want to know what happens next.

Note: I was offered, and accepted, a free Kindle copy of Books 1 to 3. I’m glad I accepted.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Reckoning
The Reckoning
by Rennie Airth
Edition: Hardcover
13 used & new from CDN$ 21.54

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘You keep thinking nothing will surprise you in this job.’, Aug. 5 2014
Ce commentaire est de: The Reckoning (Hardcover)
'Then something like this comes along and all you can do is scratch your head.’

It’s 1947 in Britain, not long after the end of World War II. While some hikers and a shepherd see a slightly built man in a red sweater approach Oswald Gibson while he fishes a stream near Lewes in Sussex, no one witnesses his execution-style murder, and the slightly built man appears to have vanished. Scotland Yard sends Detective Inspector Billy Styles to the scene because of the report of an earlier and similar killing in Scotland. The possibility that the two murders might be connected needs to be explored.

At Oswald Gibson’s home, Styles finds a letter that Gibson was writing to Scotland Yard enquiring about the whereabouts of John Madden, the former detective from whom Billy learnt his trade. While John Madden, now retired, does not recognise Oswald Gibson from the photographs he is shown, it becomes clear that the two murders are linked. Identical bullets were used in both cases. And then a third murder occurs.

‘The executioner has spoken. By now you must know what a cowardly business it is.’

Discovery of a cryptic entry in Oswald Gibson’s diary provides the link John Madden requires to remember a tragic event in the past, and the realization that others will be murdered unless the murderer can be identified and stopped.

This is the fourth of Rennie Airth’s novels to feature John Madden. It’s an interesting role for John Madden: as a retired police officer he is not the official investigator, but his past knowledge – both before and after his police career - becomes critical. I also found the small domestic details of the lives of John Madden and his family satisfying. I felt at times like I was visiting with old friends, and through them appreciating the impact of two world wars on communities and individuals.

This is a well-written, fast moving and thought provoking novel that really made me think about justice, about reckoning and retribution. It would be possible to read this as a standalone novel, but I’d really recommend reading the novels in order.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Plain of Dead Cities: A Syrian Tale
The Plain of Dead Cities: A Syrian Tale
by Bruce McLaren
Edition: Paperback
4 used & new from CDN$ 33.56

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Syria is complex indeed, multifarious and manifold.’, Aug. 1 2014
Bruce McLaren presents this book as a blend of memoir and fiction. He’s been to Syria, has studied its history and culture, religion and geopolitics, and uses this knowledge to take the reader on a virtual tour of Syria as it is now. By inserting himself in the present, Bruce McLaren helps to make some sense of who is fighting whom, and why.

‘The only thing that the Jews, Christians and Muslims agree upon is that they each think that they are right while the other is wrong.’

Unfortunately, there seem to be as many differences between branches of each religion as there are between religions. And differences within branches of monotheism can lead to conflict.

Syria has been in a state of civil war for over three years. According to the United Nations, the death toll reached 120,000 almost twelve months ago. By early 2013, the UNHCR announced that there were over 1 million refugees as a consequence of this war, and millions more people have been displaced from their homes and/or are experiencing shortages of food and water. Many different groups are involved in the conflict.

‘The western media presents Syria in terms of black and white. The Syrian government is autocratic and thus bad.’

Many of us are conditioned to believe that all forms of government (other than our own individual versions of representative democracy) are bad, that all autocracies are totalitarian dictatorships, and that democracy will cure all evils. Democracy is, to many of us, inherently good, and should be more widely adopted. Democracy: a form of monotheism? Hmm. But back to Syria where cycles of war and peace are historical fact and present day tragedy. As Bruce McLaren points, many of us westerners have a Christian perspective of the Middle East, with an emphasis on Jerusalem at the epicentre. Many of us know very little about the centrality of Syria to human development over the past 5000 years.

‘Consider the weighty history that is interwoven in the geography and people of this ancient land. Syria is the very crucible of civilization, ..’

I found this an interesting and thought-provoking read. I’ve not travelled to Syria and while I have a limited knowledge of its history, I’m interested in learning more in order to try to understand current events. While the fictional presentation of Bruce McLarens book – where he becomes a traveller through the country in conflict – distracted me at first, it gave an immediacy to the people and events he was portraying. I recommend this book to anyone seeking greater knowledge and more understanding of the events taking place in Syria.

Note: I was offered, and accepted, a copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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